Justice Ranjan Gogoi has again emphasised on the need for a free Press and independent Judiciary for the vibrant growth of democracy. While speaking at a function in Guwahati recently, Justice Gogoi, who was among the four judges who openly rebelled against the functioning style of the present Chief Justice Of India, said that many believe that the Press and the Judiciary are the last sentinels standing, and there is no denying the fact that the Press is the ‘Ark of the Covent’ of democracy and Judiciary is the guardian of the Constitution. Perhaps this is why both the institutions were undermined the most in the dark days of Emergency. Repeated assertion for freedom of the Press and an independent Judiciary by four senior judges of the Supreme Court points to the growing concern that both the sentinels of democracy are under severe strain by forces out to undermine their independent, free-thinking character. In recent past, numerous cases have come up which give credence to the belief that there is a subtle effort by different forces to tarnish the image of these institutions. For instance, the FIR against a reporter of a newspaper who investigated Aadhaar data breach was a direct attack on Press freedom by the State. In last few years, the trend to muzzle the voice of the Press has grown alarmingly. The Judiciary in many cases came to the rescue to restore freedom of the Press in India. However, inexorable corporatisation of media and political interference have dented the free thinking character of the Press. Many media houses, in order to satisfy their bosses, invariably have a political motive and openly run propaganda instead of purveying unbiased news. Justice Gogoi, while pointing out different case laws associated with the rights of the Press, said that the Judiciary has been an ardent supporter of the rights of the Press. He asserted that judicial pronouncements from time to time have helped media jurisprudence to grow. But for the Judiciary to help media keep intact its independent character and save it from the onslaught of authoritarian forces, the press fraternity needs to put its house in order.
In recent past, the trend of fake news which can be termed the underbelly of media, has notoriously gained prominence in social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. It now appears that WhatsApp has become a repository of false news and certain forces are working with dubious intent to spoil the basic fabric of the pluralistic society. Thankfully, a few right thinking individuals from the press fraternity have taken up the challenge to expose their nefarious design. On the other hand, the growing tendency of the Indian electronic media to sensatiolise and trivialise issues which otherwise need unbiased approach, has put a question mark on the functioning style of media in the country. As the fourth pillar of democracy, the ‘free’ Press needs to get its act together if it wants to remain relevant in Indian democracy in near future. Any course correction has to come through self introspection since the Press as an institution takes care of its facts and follies. Efforts by the State will go on to undermine the independent ture of the Press and the Judiciary since the two major pillars of democracy constantly keep vigil on the Executive and political class. Regarding the price jourlists pay in telling common citizens the truth, a survey pointed out that in the two years 2014 and 2015, 54 attacks on jourlists in India were reported. The data reveals a disturbing pattern of impunity. In the 114 incidents of attacks on jourlists in 2014, only 32 people were arrested and in relation to the 28 incidents in 2015, 41 people were arrested. Jourlists are increasingly under fire for their reporting. They are killed, attacked, threatened. The stories behind each of these cases reveal a clear and persistent pattern. Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Jourlists who venture out into the field to investigate any story — be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, an eviction drive, election campaign or corruption in civic administration — are under attack. Leave alone those venturing out into the field, even those who host chat shows in the relative safety of a television studio or voice opinions on social media networks are also subjected to mecing threats, stalking and doxing. In many cases, lawmakers and law enforcers themselves are found to be the prime culprits for attacks on jourlists. The Central government on various occasions has made clear its intention to bring the Judiciary to heel through various means, including efforts in the last couple years to have a strong say in judicial appointments. Thankfully, the Judiciary has been able to stave off this pressure because the basic structure of the Constitution gives it that protection. But the recent upheaval in the higher Judiciary is a development the government must surely be watching keenly. On numerous occasions, the Judiciary has stood as the only bulwark protecting the people against an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian Executive. It will be a great relief to the people if the present churning in Judiciary ends up removing various distortions that may have crept in its workings over the years. The country desperately needs both the Judiciary and the Press to be strong and watchful, from without and within.